Page last updated at 09:02 GMT, Friday, 12 December 2008

Life with a 12-year-old alcoholic

By Thelma Etim
BBC News, Hampshire

Drunk girl
Doctors are seeing younger people with alcohol-related conditions

Jane (not her real name) was faced with the shock discovery that her young son was drinking heavily when somebody knocked on her door to tell her he had collapsed in the street.

At the age of 12, Alan, (not his real name) had drunk himself unconscious and was being revived by paramedics after attending a friend's birthday party.

He had drunk a bottle of vodka, along with half a bottle of Martini.

But he had already been consuming huge amounts of alcohol for a year before that watershed incident brought his problem to the attention of his shocked parents.

"I work full-time and I would send him to a child minders," said the distraught mother from Bournemouth.

"Unbeknown to me, Alan had stopped going after school and had started hanging around with much older children - the wrong crowd basically."

Further signs that all was not well with him began surfacing in primary school and continued into his secondary schooling, where he was constantly "getting into trouble".

I think a lot of it was probably my fault, I did not keep a closer eye on him

However, his parents bore the full brunt of the side effects symptomatic of excessive drinking.

"He has quite violent rages when he is drunk," added Jane.

"He would head-butt the wall or punch the door - every single door in our house had to be replaced."

Over the years, Alan has also destroyed most of the family furniture.

Neither he nor Jane have been able cope with his drinking, which spiralled out of control - both have been prescribed anti-depressants.

Alan was eventually diagnosed as an alcoholic at 15, by which time he was consuming about 10 to 15 cans of lager a day.

It was then doctors warned him if he continued along this destructive path he would be dead at 25.

However, Alan, now 20, did try two years ago to start afresh by completing an apprenticeship to become a painter and decorator.

But he crashed his car while drunk and lost his job as a result.

He is now on police bail awaiting trial for alcohol-related violence, according to Jane.

"I think a lot of it was probably my fault, I did not keep a closer eye on him," she said.

Anti-social behaviour

Research shows Alan's story is not only far from unique but one that is familiar to a growing number of families across Britain.

Portsmouth is one city which has obtained government funding to combat under-age drinking.

The Paulsgrove area has the highest percentage of 11-16 year olds in the city, and is currently the area with the highest rate of under-age drinkers according to Hampshire police.

A new "Weekend Project", funded with 24,000 from the Home Office, is aimed at educating young people and their parents about the dangers of under-age drinking and offering support.

youth drinking
Figures showed children aged 11 to 13 are drinking more alcohol

Police figures showed 659 alcohol-related anti-social behaviour offences were recorded in Paulsgrove from 1 March to 31 August this year.

In particular, Cheltenham Road and Allaway Avenue featured on the force's top 10 worst streets for anti-social behaviour offences and collectively accounted for more than 20% of this type of offence in the city, a police spokeswoman said.

Insp Eddie Charlton, of Hampshire police, said: "The alcohol tends to give them a bit more bravado and makes them do more stupid things - criminal damage, being abusive to residents and generally making their neighbours and their community's lives much more miserable."

Last year, Alcohol Concern called for parents who give alcohol to children aged under 15 to be prosecuted in its report on the government's Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy.

The study's figures showed on average boys aged 11 to 13 were drinking 50% more alcohol in 2006 than in 2000.

The alcohol consumption figure for girls almost doubled in the same period.

Dr Nick Sheron, a liver specialist at Southampton University Hospitals Trust, believes the "easy accessibility of cheap alcohol" is one of the major factors fuelling under-age drinking.

"The government should increase tax on alcohol in line with income gradually in order to redress the balance," he said.

"There has been a tenfold increase in liver deaths since the 1970s.

"I think we have got the balance wrong and it's the young people who are paying the price for that."

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